How Great Leaders Create Impact


There are many challenges facing the world: climate change, access to education, water, sanitation and hygiene. The list goes on. For people who want to ‘make the world a better place’, the long list of issues to be tackled can be overwhelming.

Gandhi is famously quoted as saying 'be the change you want to see in the world'. 

As such, many people aspire to become authority figures because they think it will give them the power to create change. Yet people who do have authority struggle every day to enforce that change.  This is because in order to create change, leadership is more important than authority.

Share Leadership

Crutchfield et al. (2012) writes:
'Many books on leadership focus on the traits and behaviours of leaders... In just the past decade, theories of ‘collective leadership’ have begun to gain traction, but for the most part leadership is still thought of as an individual act. Great leaders are praised for their individual competencies, attributes or distinguished personalities. In other words, attention has focused more on leaders than on leadership.'
This top down approach of focusing on the talents of one person must be replaced with collaborative leadership in order to achieve high-impact.

In ‘Forces for Good’, Crutchfield explores twelve high-impact social enterprises to find out why they are successful. Although there was no secret formula to creating one of these outstanding organisations, there were a few common threads. One of them being collaborative leadership. All of the twelve organisations had strong executive boards and a talented second-in command.

Collaborative leadership
Image credit:

This implies that, in order to solve complex issues, we need to engage the different skills of many individuals.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of social entrepreneurs who aim to 'be the change'.  

However, social enterprises must operate differently to other companies whose sole aim is to maximise profits. This is because social enterprises lead through influence not authority. Yet discussion around social enterprise too often concentrates on the entrepreneur. They focus on authority rather than leadership.

Focus on leadership not authority 

What is the difference between leadership and authority? 

Leaders are not just people who excel at what they do. Leaders challenge the status quo, they create paradigm shifts. 

George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903) wrote:
'The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.'
 If you want to be a leader, create disequilibrium and take people out of their comfort zone. Take a risk and challenge the status quo.

Image credit: http://theroadtodomestication.files.
Richard Branson explains:

'Every entrepreneur should strive to be unreasonable, to push their business to become a force for good, and create more innovation, more change and more progress.'
This is how great leaders create change. They create disorder. Creating a disequilibrium gets people uncomfortable and encourages those early adopters to follow change.

How do great leaders create impact?

Great leaders focus on leadership rather than authority, they challenge the status- quo and also share leadership.


Heifetz, R, Grashow, A & Linsky, M 2009, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership. Tools and Tactics for Changing your Organisation and the World, Harvard Business Press: Boston, Massachusetts

Crutchfield L, Grant H  2012, Forces for Good. The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, Jossey-Bass, pp. 175-201

Satell Greg 2014, ‘To Create Change, Leadership Is More Important Than Authority’, Harvard Business Review, viewed 4 June 2014

Branson Richard 2014, 'The unreasonable man',
viewed 5 June 2014, 

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  1. Fantastic work Danushi!
    Your comments on collaboration as a fundamental aspect in creating effective leadership shed light on what many often forget when creating social enterprises. The idea to invoke 'disequilibrium' is striking and insightful. Combine this with such a pleasant visual layout and formatting, it's a wonderful read, well done!

  2. "This is a fantastic introduction into collaborative leadership which we haven't explored fully in class. The implication for leadership as a skill set is that communication between leadership members is even more important. It would be great to know how the practicalities of this work, do you know any real life examples where collaborative leadership works?
    Also how do you balance leadership with authority, Is it possible to have one without the other? How would leaders maintain order without authority?

  3. Thanks Chris and Ruwani for the comments. Perhaps I will save those questions for another blog post!